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Report: The biggest challenges facing R.I. public schools

The Providence School Department.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

The Annenberg Institute at Brown University is out with a new post-pandemic look at Rhode Island schools, and it’s worth taking the time to read the full report.

The researchers don’t offer too many potential solutions, but the report provides a clear breakdown of some of the key challenges each district – not just Providence – is facing.

Here’s a quick breakdown of their findings.

A drop in public school enrollment

Rhode Island has lost about 8,000 public school students – that includes both traditional public schools and charter schools – since the beginning of the pandemic, a trend that researchers say is playing out across the country. This could be a long-term problem for the state because the decline in enrollment is especially pronounced at the elementary school level. That could mean fewer teachers and possibly less funding.


Schools are more diverse than ever

The number of Latino students across the state has increased by 14 percent over the past decade, while white student enrollment is down 21 percent. When you dig a little deeper, you see that multi-language learners have nearly doubled during that same period, which means several districts are investing in extra services for those students. Rhode Island has increased funding in recent years for MLL students, but that money still isn’t baked into the state’s education funding formula. That could change in the next legislative session.

Chronic absenteeism is skyrocketing

This is a big issue that Governor Dan McKee is trying to address. During the 2021-2022 school year, more than 46,000 students were absent at least 10 percent of school year, which is at least 18 days. The numbers are highest at the high school level, but elementary school students jumped from 13 percent chronically absent during the 2017-2018 school year to 31 percent in 2021-2022.

A struggle with test scores

We’re still waiting for the latest RICAS results from the past school year, but the report points out that Rhode Island 8th graders ranked No. 34 in the country in math and No. 38 in English language arts on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which is commonly referred to as the nation’s report card. The report also shows that Rhode Island trails its peers in comparable Massachusetts districts (and the state as a whole).


College enrollment is also falling

For the high school graduating class of 2018 in Rhode Island, 70 percent of students immediately enrolled in some form of higher education. That number fell to 62 percent with the graduating class of 2021. On the bright side, far more high school students are taking career and technical education courses before they graduate, according to the report.

This story first appeared in Rhode Map, our free newsletter about Rhode Island that also contains information about local events, links to interesting stories, and more. If you’d like to receive it via email Monday through Friday, you can sign up here.

Dan McGowan can be reached at Follow him @danmcgowan.